Not all tech in the partnerships space is a Partner Relationship Management (PRM).
Ahem. Let me say it again for the people in the back. Not all tech in the partnership space is a PRM.
Mistaking Partner Ecosystem Platforms (PEP) and other ecosystem management software for PRMs is a common source of confusion. Maybe it’s because PRMs used to be the primary tech available to partnership programs. Or maybe it’s because all of the acronyms in tech are easy to mix up. Regardless, we are here to help you differentiate between the burgeoning categories of partnership technology.
Knowing the subtle differences will help you better determine the right tools you need for the job (as well as help you avoid looking uninformed at your next partnership meeting). After all, your tech stack should reflect the modern, rapidly expanding technology in the partnerships space.
A modern tech stack can make you more effective at your job, increase the impact of your partnerships program, and help you track attribution, something that can increase your resources and headcount by 3.6x.
In this blog post, we’ll cover
The evolution of the partnerships tech space
Before we cover what is to come, it helps to know what came before.
As ecosystems coach and managing partner at Digital Bridge Partners Allan Adler put it, “For 40 years or so… you made a product, and then you found a channel to go sell it.” The primary partnership solution available (PRM) was focused on addressing this particular kind of partnership that dominated for decades.
PRM solutions are tools that help channel sales managers and channel marketers connect and automate all the pieces of their partner management process within one portal. “PRM was born from the need to be able to manage a channel and channels were like stovepipes: very linear supply chains,” said Adler.
Folks needed a portal where their partners could go to register deals and access all of the assets, partner training materials, and information relevant to that partnership. Deal registration was the most important of these features, as whether or not a partner logged into their partner’s PRM portal to register a deal could affect the partner’s (in-program) revenue attribution and margin.
“It was like living in a house with your family and only ever being able to talk to them in your personal bedroom,” he explained.
The introduction of cloud sharing technology brought with it a shift away from the traditional “stovepipe” model of partnerships and towards a bi-directional ecosystem model. Instead of only having access to a portal where data could be stored and accessed via login, platforms became the norm. Data could now be shared in both directions.
Software solutions could now be integrated with one another to make whole solutions for an end-user. Integrations meant a new “best in breed” standard of tech was possible — after all, why use a portal that offered a relatively good user experience on all fronts when you could instead integrate the best tech for each aspect of your workflow?
A new frontier of possibilities for ecosystem management brought with it a new standard for partnership tech: the Partner Ecosystem Platform (PEP). In 2018, Crossbeam was founded as the first PEP. A PEP is a software as a service (SaaS) product that helps companies build more valuable partnerships. Account mapping tools, industry-leading networking, and a growing integration marketplace brings partnerships and revenue together. G2 has since added PEP to its software categories.
The more partnerships expand, the more solutions are popping up to address the growing pains of the space.
The good news? There are more and better quality ways than ever to build, manage, and grow your partner ecosystem. The kind-of-inconvenient-but-not-really-that-bad news? With so many new solutions in the space (and most likely with more on the way), the differences between their offerings can become confusing to parse.
So let’s dive into the differences between two most commonly used partnership tools (PRM and PEP) and take a look at some additional new partnership solutions you will most likely be hearing about.
PRMs: A primer
According to Adler, just because PRM isn’t the standalone solution for partnerships doesn’t mean they’re obsolete. PRMs are now a part of many partnership teams’ tech stacks rather than the only tool at their disposal. But before getting into that:
What is a PRM?
PRMs are typically used in a traditional re-selling relationship. A PRM stores data entered by one party — as a result they can be thought of as unidirectional. Think of PRM as a gated portal solely dedicated to serving your channel partners. A PRM is not to be confused with a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool — although CRM makers also sometimes make PRMs and many PRMs offer CRM integrations.
PRM tools allow partner managers to remove redundant steps from their workflow and optimize (or even automate) essential tasks like education or lead registration.
Common benefits for PRM tools
While every partner program has its differences, most PRM tools include the same core functionality:
- Automating partner onboarding
- Sharing educational, marketing, and sales enablement resources
- Simplifying the process of logging leads and deals
- Enabling fast payments of affiliate and referral commissions
- Forecasting channel sales and analyzing which partners are most effective
- Preventing sales and channel conflict by ensuring leads aren’t assigned to more than one partner
- Providing partners with a central management portal that’s easy to set up and manage
Analytics and reporting
PRMs offer insights into a user’s channel that can inform their partnership strategy. Specifically, most PRMs report on the win ratio of deals with particular partners, the overview of the partner-influenced pipeline, and the number of deals (and their value) that can be attributed to specific partners.
PRMs typically integrate with CRMs and PEPs. (More on the integration between PEPs and PRMs later).
Examples of PRMs
PEP: A primer
Despite being created in 2018, PEP has already become a standard in partnership management. In fact, we are beginning to see new partnerships solutions being built on top of Crossbeam, with PEP data being used as the primary data source for entire applications.
What is a PEP?
PEPs are used to vet new partners, identify overlaps in customers and leads between existing partners, and execute co-selling and co-marketing efforts. They also include features to attribute revenue to your partners, track EQLs, and keep your data secure:
PEPs such as Crossbeam include:
- Real-time account mapping to identify potential customers and relationships: Take your list of customers and potential customers and compare it to that of your partner in real-time. If there is a change in your CRM, it will be instantly reflected in your PEP.
- Data collaboration between two or more partners. PEPs allow you to securely share your customer, lead, and prospect data with your partners. The PEP acts as a third party, receiving data from both sides, evaluating it to find the actionable overlaps, and revealing only those pieces to both partners. This keeps the exchange secure while making sure neither side has to expose their partner’s entire data set.
Analytics and reporting
When PEPs are fully integrated into your workflow, you can maximize every stage of your pipeline (for example: using ETL and reverse ETL workflows to automate outreach and track engagement). You can even create your own custom criteria based on your own KPIs to evaluate your partners on.
PEPs offer integrations that support your established workflows and pull data from your already-in-use systems to make user adoption easy. For example, Crossbeam syncs with CRMs, data warehouses, PRMs, and web extensions
PEP and PRM
An easy way to differentiate between the two: a PEP is a platform that shares data. A PRM is a portal that stores data.
A modern partnership tech stack typically has PEPs and PRMs sending data back and forth, with the PRM helping to manage the partnerships created using a PEP. If a PEP is a faucet, a PRM is a pitcher of water. And like a faucet keeps a pitcher full, a PEP increases the usefulness of a PRM by keeping it full of incoming partnerships and highlighting opportunities for sales collaboration with co-selling. Crossbeam offers integrations with top PRMs with several more PRM integrations in the works.
Other ecosystem management software
In 2021, Forrester added an “ecosystem management” category to their channel software tech breakdown.
Forrester also reported that the number of ecosystem management companies doubled from 2020 to 2021, with the revenue driven by these companies doubling as well — from $93 million in 2020 to $172 million in 2021.
As the role of the ecosystem grows, more tech solutions are attempting to fill niche gaps for folks in the Channel space. This has resulted in the introduction of some new names and acronyms in the ecosystem space. And like the split between PRM and PEP, these new (or rebranded) companies are carving out categories of their own.
Ecosystem Business Management
An ecosystem business management platform (EBM) is a co-selling management tool.
Unlike a PRM, an EBM is a platform, not a portal. It promotes collaboration with data sharing between two co-selling partners. This is meant to enable a co-selling relationship rather than a traditional re-seller one.
EBMs are also different from PEPs. While PEPs enable the creation of and tracking throughout the entire lifecycle of a partnership, EBMs specifically optimize co-selling motions with existing partners. This helps to ensure each co-selling opportunity has the best chance of being a win for both partners. EBMs are especially valuable for larger enterprise companies where a co-selling opportunity might have a multitude of supporting staff from each collaborating partner. EBMs also can integrate with PEPs, using them as the main source of partner data.
Because ecosystem management tech is a relatively new space, EBMs are frequently mistaken for PEPs. Take, for example, Workspan. Although Workspan is categorized as a PEP on G2, the company categorizes itself as an EBM. This is because, according to their website, Workspan is focused on co-selling.
The creation of EBMs tells a bigger story about the future of ecosystems — the more impactful they become, the more niche parts of the partner life cycle become opportunities for optimization.
EBMs such as Workspan integrate with your CRM and PEP.
Ecosystem Engagement Management
Contrasting with the specificity of an EBM is the re-imagined portal experience of Ecosystem Engagement Management (EEM) solutions.
One example of this is the platform formerly known as Webinfinity. Webinfinity is now 360ecosystems and has branded itself as an Ecosystem Engagement Management platform (EEM). The company can still be found under the Webinfinity name on G2 in the PEP category. However, while 360ecosystems is a platform, it’s not a PEP. Nor is it a PRM. Confusing!
Instead, the EEM focuses on creating a cohesive experience for ecosystem users: customers, partners, and employees. It integrates with PEPs and line of business (LOB) applications, bringing them into one portal. LOB applications are programs or software that are needed to run a business — think CRMs, LMS solutions, sales readiness platforms, etc.
This opens up the “portal” experience to best-in-breed LOB applications and creates a one-stop experience for users.
As time goes on, expect to see more ecosystem-specific solutions pop up. Just remember, they aren’t all PRMS.